7s and 9s are sometimes confused with one another because both belong to the ”optimistic” trio, along with type 2. What this means is that 7s, 9s and 2s have the most optimistic or positive view of people and the world, with 7s being the most optimistic, 9s the 2nd most optimistic and 2s being the 3rd in line with this perspective. Another way of understanding this is that these three types embellish the world more than the other types, perceiving things as better than they actually are in reality.
Here are some differentiating questions that you might find useful. Two caveats for the questions to work effectively: (1) the question only works if the person has narrowed down the possible types to these two only and (2) once the question is asked and the answer is offered, it really matters that the guider/teacher/coach understands the meaning of what is being said.
Question Approach | story telling
When you tell a story about something that has occurred, do you start in the middle where you are most excited or do you start from the beginning and then share the story in sequence.
Listen for this
Type 7 | 7s are story tellers, but they rarely start at the beginning, preferring to begin with the part that most excites them and then move around the story to share the parts about which they are most enthused. As a result, 7s often don’t know when to stop a story since they don’t necessarily get to the end! They tell stories in a way that most energizes them.
Type 9 | 9s are also story tellers, but they tell them in a sequential way, starting at the beginning, then moving in sequence to the end. They do this for several reasons. First, 9s believe that context is important for understanding a story, so they share the context of the story at the beginning. Second, 9s like to remember all parts of the story and going in sequence helps not leave anything out. Although the stories may feel long from the perspective of others, not so for the 9 storyteller.
Question Approach | interruptions
How do you define an interruption when someone is talking? Is it when someone says “no” to an idea you have or is it when someone says something while you or another person is speaking?
Listen for this
Type 7 | 7s rarely feel interrupted by others because they actually enjoy it when someone else comes in to interject a thought or build on an idea when the 7s is speaking. To 7s, this feels like engaged listening and interaction, not an interruption. This is called “overlapping” conversation. When 7s listen, they jump in the middle when someone else is talking because they are excited. The only time 7s really feel interrupted is when another person completely shuts down or negates an idea the 7 has shared.
Type 9 | 9s do not like anyone coming in to say something before the 9 has completely finished a sentence, a thought, a concept or a paragraph. Not only do 9s perceive this as interrupting, they consider it rude, disrespectful, and diminishing. In addition, these interruptions often cause 9s to lose their train of thought and forget where they are in what they are trying to communicate. 9s also listen without interrupting until the other person has finished, and then will add their own comments.
Question Approach | attention diverted
When your attention gets diverted, do you think about or engage in stimulating activities or do you tend to go for comfort and familiarity?
Listen for this
Type 7 | 7s get diverted very quickly and very often, and when they do, their minds move quickly to interesting ideas, stimulating thoughts, and plans for activities. This happens hundreds of times per day rather than a behavior that happens sometimes under certain conditions. 7s divert when they are bored, excited, anxious, sad and for a variety of other reasons.
Type 9 | 9s get diverted only under certain conditions: when they are anxious; when conflict looms and they are directly involved; when they are angry at someone or another person is angry at them; when they feel pressured to do something; and when they don’t know how to do something. In addition, the 9s diversionary tactics tend to be that which is familiar and comforting to them. For example, they may watch TV, read books, go for many long walks, do crossword puzzles, add to one of their collections; most 9s have collections that they enjoy buying or getting as gifts, but also take pleasure and comfort in having and using them.
On my website, The EnneagramInBusiness.com, there is a special section titled “Enneagram Style Differentiators, “ where you can click on two different types to read about how they are similar and different. This section may stimulate additional differentiating question you can ask. Click here to be directed to this section.
Ginger Lapid-Bogda PhD, the author of four best-selling Enneagram-business books, is a speaker, consultant, trainer, and coach. She provides certification programs for professionals around the world who want to bring the Enneagram into organizations with high-impact business applications, and is past-president of the International Enneagram Association. Visit her website: The Enneagram in Business.com. firstname.lastname@example.org